How to use 'Regenerative Agriculture' to increase soil carbon

How to use 'Regenerative Agriculture' to increase soil carbon
© Derek Middleton

Sam Newington

Guest blog

I am an organic beef farmer from Etchingham, East Sussex. I run a family farm, where we have been farming using ‘Regen Ag’ for a number of years. Regenerative farmers in this country and around the world are changing the face of farming, by showing how sensitive land management can hugely increase soil fertility, our soil biome health, and our soil carbon stores too.

The key to this is to avoid the mechanical disturbance of our soil. By keeping the ground covered with plant life at all times; increasing diversity of the plants; keeping a living root in the ground all year; and using grazing ruminants in a rotational system to allow appropriate rest periods for the plants, this allows both soils, soil carbon and nature to recover. These are the basic soil health principles which assist in improving carbon cycling back into the ground. Increasingly we are able to show how a healthy soil is the key to the health of all our natural life support systems and farming systems.

On my farm we are experimenting with grazing systems to increase soil health. This has involved putting in electric fence systems and watering points to allow the controlled movement of cattle and sheep across the land. By leaving longer rest periods we have seen an increase in flower species in the pasture and therefore an increase in insect populations, and we expect to see an overall improvement in soil health.

It goes without saying that as organic farmers we try and minimise our use of chemicals, including ivermectins and unnecessary medicines. Instead we use natural forage from field and hedge, to create a healthy, naturally medicinal diet for our livestock.

My understanding of these processes, and how Regen AG can help to change the face of farming has come from the book ‘Dirt to Soil’ by Gabe Brown which I can highly recommend reading.

How farming can help the carbon cycle

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© Smiling Tree Farm

Comments

  • Simon Green:

    15 Feb 2020 11:12:00

    Livestock are an essential part of sustainable farming. The current vegan drive to purely plant based diets does not take into account that to feed the world’s population requires massive amounts of artificial fertilisers derived as a by-product of the oil industry and high amounts of chemical pesticides & fungicides which result in depleted soils that don’t retain moisture & nutrients and have a devastating effect on ecosystems. Historically agriculture developed with an integrated, more sustainable mixed farming system of arable & livestock but the post-war drive to produce more food resulted in a farming system where arable & livestock farming systems increasingly diverged, specialised & intensified resulting in arable systems becoming increasingly dependent on artificial fertilisers and chemicals with depleted soil systems and intensive livestock systems using high amounts of fertiliser and producing high amounts of slurry & manures which increased contamination of watercourses.
    The drive to replace traditionally grazed downland with intensive arable which started in the 70’s & 80’s has resulted in the rich accumulated soil on the chalk downland which was held together by a naturally evolved grass & wildflower turf developed over thousands of years of grazing being washed away in a couple of decades leaving a bare almost pure chalk substrate that relies heavily on artificial fertilisers & chemicals (most of which wash down to contaminate the chalk aquifers), has reducing yields every year and is increasingly susceptible to drought! Many people remember the inches of soil covering roads through the downs following heavy rainfall after the initial ploughings. Livestock support a rich ecosystem which balances out nature, ladybirds & birds will eat insects and control pests naturally, healthy soils enable healthy plants which resist & minimise disease in the same way that healthy humans resist disease better. Whilst I agree that we should eat less meat, it is a part of the diet humans were evolved to survive on. We should respect what we produce, waste less and eat smaller amounts of quality food. It seems crazy to me that we are driving to ever increasing intensively produced food at an ever increasingly higher cost to the environment and then wasting ever increasingly amounts of the food we produce! Madness! Why not produce less, better quality, lower impact food produced by an integrated arable & livestock system without waste?
    There will be hurdles to overcome to re-integrate & develop sustainable farming systems, over the years the mixed farming infrastructure has disappeared, new markets will need to be created, education programs introduced (sadly Mrs T got rid of or privatised most of ADAS, the VI service & government support for agriculture). Simple things like introducing arable / livestock rotations will require re-fencing, new water supplies, buildings and preventing the agricultural infrastructure being sold off for short term high cost housing gain. This will require some government stimulus, but the relative costs will be small & the long-term gains to society & the environment high. The main problem is that successive governments have made general platitudes about both environmental & farming issues but they are career politicians with little knowledge of the realities of either subject and are focussed on short term financial & political gain!
    Simon Green
    (Sussex Wildlife member, former MAFF / DEFRA ADAS research biochemist, sustainable livestock farmer and now runs an award winning sustainable campsite in Sussex!)

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